Homestead Confederate flag dispute dies down — but is far from over


Nearly a month after the Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP issued a series of demands to resolve an ongoing dispute over the one-time appearance of the Confederate battle flag, its leaders have been mum about the group’s next steps.

At least three of their six requests have been rejected by Homestead’s leaders. And it is unclear whether the civil-rights organization is part of a mediation effort led by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service about the Confederate flag that was flown last November in the Veterans’ Day parade that is sponsored by the Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce.

Becky Monroe, the DOJ’s special counsel on the case, would not confirm or deny the NAACP’s involvement with federal mediators.

”We are all involved in trying to bring all the interested parties to the table,” Monroe said Tuesday.

Other groups who are part of the dispute — the city of Homestead, the chamber of commerce and its military affairs committee as well as the Sons of Confederate Veterans who marched with the controversial flag — all have said they would participate in mediation.

Debra Toomer, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade NAACP, did not return calls by Tuesday’s print deadline. She said Bishop Victor T. Curry, the chapter’s president, was on vacation.

Other NAACP officials could not be reached for comment.

The relative quiet in the simmering flag dispute is in marked contrast to the heated words NAACP officials used at a June 11 press conference outside Homestead City Hall.

It further raises questions over how the controversy over the Confederate battle flag — to some a symbol of Southern pride, to others a symbol of hate and violence — will ultimately be resolved before the Veterans’ Day parade in November.

At the last parade, the Sons of Confederate Veterans marched with the rebel flag, an act that divided the community.

At its June press conference, the NAACP had given 30 days for Homestead and the chamber’s military affairs committee to meet six demands, which are:

• Homestead Mayor Lynda Bell and City Council members apologize to the community for “failure to understand the hurt that was caused by the publicly sanctioned display of the Confederate battle flag.”

• The City Council adopt parade guidelines that were drafted by the former Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board.

• The military affairs committee restrict flags in the Veterans’ Day parade to the American flag, officials flags of the armed services and the state of Florida flag.

• The City Council rescind its vote to dissolve the former Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board.

• Bell and City Manager Mike Shehadeh meet with representatives of a NAACP coalition to discuss ”issues of concern” raised by the community.

• The leaders of the Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce meet with the coalition to discuss issues of concern as well.

Bell said last month she would not apologize over the flag because it appeared at an event where the city had no say over who would participate.

She also rejected the idea of restoring the former Human Relations Board, saying that Homestead needed a new board that was more reflective of its growing Hispanic population.

Jeffrey Wander, the chairman of the military affairs committee that organizes the parade, said he has not heard a thing from the Department of Justice.

He hopes the mediation will get going because his committee has to decide by September whether to organize or cancel the parade, a 47-year-old tradition.

Last month, the committee postponed any decisions on canceling the parade, even though the chamber’s board of directors unanimously recommended to stop the event because of the controversy.

”I don’t know what is holding up the process,” Wander said. “I hope to hear from them soon.”

Copyright 2009 Miami Herald Media Co.

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